The Strokes - Is This It? (Cover Artwork)

The Strokes

Is This It? (2001)


The Strokes are probably the most hyped band out there right now. They are professed to be the forerunners of the current trend of garage rock, which may be true to the extent that they may lead that trend in sales, but only to that extent. They are satirically called a "24-car garage rock band" by most critics in alternative and underground music press, with good reason. Singer/songwriter Julian Casablancas is the son of modeling super-mogul John Casablancas. Casablancas and guitarist Nick Valensi met at Dwight School, a private school in Manhattan. Guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. met Casablancas at L'Institut Le Rosey in Switzerland when they were younger and joined the band when he attended NYU for film school. Bassist Nikolai Fraiture was attending Le Cest Francais in the Upper East Side. As you can see, the Strokes' roots are far from the working-class type. Obviously, it isn't fair to denounce a band simply because of the class they were born into, but listening to their debut album, "Is This It?", gives you the distinct feeling that the music is more paid for than it is from the heart.

The lead guitar is probably the strongest suit of the strokes, with the bass guitar being second. Casablancas is by far their weak point. His vocals at times are decent while damaging to songs at others. Still though, they fit a lot better than they would with any other band. Lyrically he is quite inconsistent. Some are alright, but most are average at best, with a good lot being fairly bad. Certainly more interesting than the "cash and bitches" lyrics of mainstream rap, the faked heartache of faux-emo, the cheesy angst of nu-metal, or the "thong tha-thong thong thong" of today's R&B. Comparisons to the Velvet Underground are so far off as Lou Reeds lyrics were extremely well-written and spoke volumes. Plus the Strokes don't come close to matching the Underground's ability to write beautiful yet abrasive music. Their sound is unquestionably derivative of The Velvet Underground and Television, but they don't deserve to eat out of either of those bands' trash cans (not that they'd ever have to).

It is hard to find stand-out tracks on their debut album, Is This It?, as they are consistently average. The best song, "New York City Cops", is unfortunately on the U.K.-only version. This is because the U.S. version came out very shortly after 9/11 and someone (most likely the label) found it to be inappropriate at the time. This is certainly understandable and to be expected from a major label, as they have an image to uphold. However, personally I find such censorship to be in contrary to what should be done. Over-sensitivity hinders creativity and I really believe that it slows the "healing process". Taboo is never a good thing. Enough ranting; the replacement for "New York City Cops" on the U.S. version is "When It Started", which itself is better than the bulk of the album.

The Strokes are a classic case of the damage caused by being over-hyped. As Newton's Third Law of Motion states: "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." The more a band is hyped by the mainstream press, the more people in the underground like to bash them. Also, when you claim an album to be more than it is, it simply provides the listener with more disappointment when they realize it isn't all it's cracked up to be. That being said, the Strokes aren't as terrible as you might think I'd find them. Their musicianship is very good. Their songwriting is pretty lacking. As a band, they seem to work well together. They are nowhere near being the band that will save rock ‘n' roll as the critics sensationalize them as and I think this is going to really hurt them when it comes time for their follow-up, especially since this trend of "garage rock revival" in the mainstream will be old hat by then. I am, however, interested in seeing what they come up with. All-in-all don't let their hype completely disenfranchise you from this album; it is enjoyable in moderation. You can bash them all you want, but you know you'll be content to turn on the radio and here them. Would you rather be hearing Ludacris, Slipknot, or the rest of that garbage? Anyhow, at least they're better than the Vines.

Review originally from Mediaocre Industries, where the players play.